The names of nearly 3,000 victims and the grieving voices of loved ones they left behind sounded across Ground Zero Tuesday in a simple, solemn ceremony marking the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Under a bright, clear blue sky, much like the one on that infamous day, family and friends remembered the lost. Nearly 500 of them were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters from Long Island.
"Daddy, I always feel you are with me, and I am thinking about you all the time, and I always try to make you proud," Christina Aceto, 30, told her father, Richard Aceto, of Wantagh, an employee of Marsh & McLennan who died in Tower One at the age of 42.
"Hugs and kisses from your baby girl."
Amy Broghammer, 37, had these words for her father-in-law, Herman Broghammer, 58, an Aon Corp. employee from Merrick who died in Tower Two.
"Your newest grandson shares your birthday," Broghammer said. "It's proof that God's love is all around us and knows no earthly bounds."
Paul Kirwin, 81, spoke to his son Glenn Davis Kirwin, 39, of Old Westbury, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and died in Tower One: "Glenn, I know you are up there watching us. You can be proud of your wife as she raises your two wonderful boys."
It was the first commemoration at Ground Zero without speeches by politicians. And it was the first time that One World Trade Center and Tower Four, new structures being built at the site, reached heights that soared above the rest of the lower Manhattan skyline. Compared with past years, including the 10th anniversary last year, the crowd was smaller.
In the voices of some of the 200 readers there was anger; in others, pride; in many, boundless pain. The most common word used, it seemed, was love.
"We miss you Ry and love you," Diane Parks, 57, told her son Ryan Daniel Fitzgerald, 26, of Floral Park, who worked for Fiduciary Trust and died in Tower Two. "Life is not the same. We especially miss those beautiful blue eyes."
As the names were being read at Ground Zero, Vice President Joe Biden was in western Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed. Four passengers fought with the plane's hijackers before it went down. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama laid a wreath at the Pentagon, which was struck by hijacked American Airlines Flight 77. The names of those victims also were read at Ground Zero, as were those of six people killed in a 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center.
Long Islanders also attended dozens of memorial events closer to home. Pete Kletchka, projects supervisor for Islip Town's department of public works, played guitar at the town's memorial ceremony. "As divisive as we may be and as polarized as we can be, this is an opportunity in this country for all of us to realize we're in it together," he said.
The ceremony in Manhattan began at 8:39 a.m. with bagpipers and drummers from the FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority Police, agencies that saw heavy casualties, leading the way to the stage. The Young People's Chorus of New York City sang the national anthem.
The reading of names was stopped six times for moments of silence to mark a plane strike or the collapse of one of the Twin Towers. The ceremony ended just before 12:30 p.m. with three trumpeters playing "Taps."
Many politicians were on hand, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. They were joined by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who was in the city for remembrance events Tuesday.
The decision by politicians to be seen but not heard at this anniversary pleased Rosemary Cain, 70, of Massapequa, mother of firefighter George Cain, 35, who died in the attacks. She said the event was "quieter and less stressful than last year."
Cain was joined by family and friends, but not her daughter, who she said was so turned off by politicians' speeches and security barricades at the 10th anniversary event that she refused to come this year.
"It was horrible," Cain said of the 2011 ceremony. "We don't need them here," she added of politicians.
After the program, a small crowd lingered in the memorial's plaza, walking slowly by its two reflecting pools. Red roses and American flags were placed on the parapets around the pools that are inscribed with victims' names. Notes were tucked here and there, flowers and photographs, too.
Ilia Rodriguez, 69, of Miami, who once lived in West Babylon, home to her son Carlos R. Lillo, 37, an FDNY paramedic who died in the attacks, pleaded that he not be forgotten.
"Please don't forget about my son. He was a caballero," Rodriguez said, using the Spanish word for gentleman. "I come here every year . . . I'm living with a pain that is inside, that is always in my heart."